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5 Questions Nonprofits Should Ask Before Sending Their Email Newsletter

Written by Azure Collier, social media education developer for Constant Contact

A nonprofit marketer who I know personally and who happens to be a Constant Contact customer recently asked me this question:

“Can you give me suggestions on how we can boost our open rate? If you look at our history, we only average about 15 percent or so. I do have to admit that our list isn’t probably our ‘best friend,’ it has been piecemeal together from various events over the years.”

Whenever you’re sending an email newsletter, you’re fighting for attention in the inbox of your audience. They’re looking at a steady stream of messages, so you need yours to stand out!

So before you hit send on your next newsletter or announcement, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are your subject lines compelling?

A subject line like February Newsletter isn’t going to get your readers’ attention. It’s just not exciting — it doesn’t tell your audience what’s in the email, why they should take the time to open it, or how this month’s newsletter is different from last month’s edition.

Instead, try any of these subject line templates:

  • [#] volunteers needed for [Name of Event]
  • Your donation helped [#] people last month
  • [#] ways you can get involved this month

2. Do you have interesting visuals in your emails?

A lot of people use the preview panel when reading emails, and if they’re on a mobile phone, they’ll only see a small portion of the top. Get their attention by using real photos of volunteers or a program in action. People will relate to those images — they might know those people, that building, or a place in the local area — and that might get them to open the email to read more.

Need some ideas and resources for images? There are plenty of tips in our How to Use Images to Bring Your Emails to Life guide.

3. Is the email content interesting to your readers?

A mistake I see a lot of nonprofits make is sending every press release to their general audience. Your audience is not your media distribution list. Unless it’s extremely important breaking news — urgent help needed with a local emergency, or announcing a multimillion dollar donation — send your press releases to the media, and don’t distribute them to your entire contact list.

You do need to get the word out about your organization’s news. So include the headline and the first few sentences in your regular email newsletters, and link to the full press release on your website.

4. Is this the right frequency and timing for my email?

Are you sending emails at a time when your audience is available to read them? If people don’t have access to check email during the day — using a smartphone or a desktop — they’re going to look at their inbox at the beginning and end of the day, and only view the important messages. The rest will get deleted because their emails are piling up.

Also consider how often you are sending your emails. If your audience is receiving too many, they may stop opening your messages or unsubscribe altogether. Try testing different times and dates, and use your email reporting to find which schedule is getting the best open rates.

5. Do you know what your audience really wants?

The best way to find out if the subject lines, content, and frequency are working for your audience is to ask them.

Use surveys or social media to find out what they want to hear about from you and how often they want to hear it. You’ll not only find out what works for your readers, but they’ll appreciate that their opinions and needs matter to you.

Go do it!

Once you’ve asked these questions, you’ll get a good picture of how to effectively build relationships between your nonprofit and your loyal supporters. My nonprofit marketing friend has used these tips to make his emails more audience-focused, and he’s already getting positive results on his open rate.

You can too! Log in to your Constant Contact account.

Not a Constant Contact customer? See how one nonprofit raises $1,000 per email with Constant Contact.

Azure-Collier_avatar-96x96
Azure Collier

Azure Collier is a social media education developer for Constant Contact. She hosts Constant Contact’s social media webinars. The rest of the time, you’ll find her online researching social media, email marketing and small business. And watching cat videos.


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